How to motivate executives to embrace employee engagement

Aligning staffers’ values with specific company objectives will generate ideas that will benefit the bottom line—and that’s the sort of metric that the top brass can appreciate.

We find ourselves in an employee engagement crisis.

A recent Gallup poll found that 68.5 percent of workers consider themselves “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” at work. Despite this, it’s still challenging to get top executives and managers to focus on employee engagement.

We know that it’s crucial to an organization’s long-term success. We know it’s tied to building a high-performance workplace. So why don’t leaders take it seriously?

The problem with employee engagement

Many leaders simply don’t know how to quantify it.

Measuring engagement does very little to help them manage core objectives. The data also do nothing to help them understand how business is trending.

To illustrate this, let’s look at one way organizations measure engagement: the employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS).

The results of an eNPS survey can be 90. It can be -90. It’s an interesting measure, but what do you learn from it? If you improve it by 10, 30, or 50 points, will it reduce turnover, help fill open roles quicker or boost productivity?

Perhaps it will, but by how much and to what degree will that affect bottom-line results? When a leader has to prioritize, focusing on challenging and resource-intensive work that drives ambiguous results does not make it to the top of the list.

Engagement is difficult to address with confidence.

Tying employee engagement to core objectives

Though difficult to measure, engagement is crucial.

So, is it enough to just measure it and focus on improving it? Is it enough to make it a core objective and make engagement metrics a core component of performance reviews?

No, I don’t believe it is.

First, there’s a temptation to focus on moving the number without addressing primary issues. We know this is a problem, because we’ve heard about instances when managers would exert influence in trying to help improve eNPS scores.

More important, if we believe engagement has a significant impact on the bottom line, why take the shortcut? Make an effort to understand its true impact.

Understanding the bottom-line impact of engagement

Identify engagement outcomes that make it a viable leading indicator of business results. When this happens, leaders genuinely care.

How do you do this?

Let’s look at an example from a leading global resources company. They set goals around cutting costs and improving productivity and safety. After sharing these goals with employees, leaders used idea software to tap into insights from their front-line staff, recognizing that these people notice inefficiencies every day.

At first, most of the ideas didn’t align to their cost-cutting and productivity objectives, so managers focused on communication and on helping employees understand the strategy and objectives.

Over the next six months, 95 percent of the 1,700 ideas that came through focused on cutting costs and improving productivity and safety. More important, the platform helped to ingrain continuous improvement into the company culture.

Employees used their discretionary efforts to help their organization achieve its core objectives. Employees felt their voices were being heard and that their ideas contributed to the company’s future.

For leaders, a steady pipeline of ideas and projects for lowering costs, improving productivity and safety provides them with confidence of long-term success.

How leaders can set employees up for success

For this approach to be effective, leaders must establish a clear vision and set goals that are meaningful at an individual level. Thus, employees become empowered to address obstacles that prevent success or to seize opportunities that improve or accelerate results.

In this way, engagement can be measured on multiple levels and can prompt action. It becomes a strong leading indicator.

Gauging engagement levels through idea software can be a decent predictor of turnover. For example, employees who aren’t engaged in developing ideas are generally less invested in their organization’s long-term success. If you’re intention isn’t to stay at a company for the long term, you’re not motivated to improve that company.

Giving an opportunity to contribute

In the end, it makes sense to provide employees with an opportunity to contribute toward company goals.

Did their contribution help the company reach its objectives? If yes, your employees are engaged. If not, you may have to examine whether employee and company goals are aligned and/or understood.

It may not be a panacea for all aspects of employee engagement, but it is a great way to determine whether you’ve engaged your employees on key priorities.

Brennan McEachran is the CEO and co-founder of SoapBox, a company that creates idea software for enterprise that enables them to collect, manage, and act on employee ideas that solve big challenges faster. SoapBox services some of North America’s most prolific brands including Anthem, Coca-Cola, Parmalat, GE and BMO. Visit: A version of this article first appeared on TLNT.

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